Twelve Remarkable Things I Ate in 2015
Two thousand fifteen was an extraordinary year for me – I traveled extensively to Europe, Asia, USA and throughout Mexico in search of the delicious, the elusive, the weird. It would be a formidable task to even attempt to remember everything I ate this year. I avoid writing “best” lists (unless I am paid handsomely to fabricate them).
So instead of recalling my favorites, I offer a list of memories that I harbor like pots on the stove of the best chef’s demi-glace, reducing, but never disappearing completely, in a slow steady simmer. Some of these culinary experiences were divine, others horrific, but I would trade none of them in for all the rice in China.
2. Shakshuka – Dr. Shakshuka, Mahane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem, Israel
Yes, I’m Jewish, and no, I had never been to Israel until this year when I finally took my resident cousins up on a long-standing invitation. I didn’t expect to find those Ottolenghi delights of which I (and seemingly every other home cook) have been dreaming, so I was pleasantly surprised by the extraordinary quality of the food in the homeland. Shakshuka (eggs poached in a spicy north-African style tomato sauce) from this hallowed hole-in-the-wall in Jerusalem’s beautiful market was perfectly balanced: sweet, spicy, aromatic of cumin and roasted red peppers…I salivate to think of it.
3. Torta Ahogada, El Guerito, Guadalajara, Mexico
The torta ahogada (drowned sandwich) is an iconic plato tapatío. Carnitas (confit of pork) are heaped on a crunchy roll called a birrote, and bathed in a piquant sauce fragrant with clove, cinnamon and cumin. It’s a mess to eat (bibs are offered) but well worth the effort. Don Ignacio has been putting these tortas together in this atmospheric spot that I happened upon by accident since 1959 and shows no signs of slowing down. Crunch, punch and umami take the stage.
shrimp, scallops, snails. “You can taste the sea.” The bread and butter that accompany this seafest are the best in Paris. L'Écailler, set in an old-fashioned antique bar, is part of the Paul Bert group of eateries, whose bistrot and small restaurant are located on the same street. L’amour, l’amour, toujours l’amour.
6. Pre-hispanic bug-taco platter @ Casa de los Tacos, Coyoacán,
Eating exotic foodstuffs is like watching an Ozu film. You avoid it because you think it won’t be fun, you have to pay a lot of attention and little happens, then it begins to draw you into its psychological vortex and you end up learning something about yourself. It was Rosetta’s renowned chef Elena Reygadas who said that she loves to eat insects because they “taste of the earth;” I think I’m beginning to know what she means. Some of them even taste good.
7. Lengua en Adobo at Pujol, Mexico City
Enrique Olvera has done more to draw attention to the beauty of Mexican cuisine than anyone. He’s a good chef and a great guy. Yet I’ve never been on the Pujol-adoring bandwagon and I remain a luke-warm fan. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of pretention of a recent San Pellegrino 50 Best dinner I was fortunate to attend. A simple bowl of red adobo sauce was as complex and evocative as a Tolstoy novel, and I can’t wax any more elegiac over the buttery bits of tongue it harbored This apparently simple little dish is Mexico at its best.
8. Snake tacos at Cien Años, Tijuana, Mexico
If it looks like a snake, slithers like a snake, it is a snake. Brought to the table boiled but unprepared, the steaming viper smelled fishy. Delivered as a taco, it tasted…well, it tasted like chicken. What more can I say?
10. Tian shui mian at Zhanglaoerliangfen, Chengdu, Sichuan, China
A highlight amongst a gastronomically high-lit year was a week-long trip to China featuring a food tour of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. Arranged by Jeffrey Merrihue CEO of Mofilm and www.foodiehub.tv, led by the incomparable Jenny Gao, of www.jingtheory.com fame, and accompanied by my pal Luís Chiu chef/owner of Asian Bay in Mexico City, we started at this locally famous noodle joint housed in a typically Chinese faux recreation of an old neighborhood. These rice noodles are hand fashioned like Italian malfatti, irregular and therefore delightfully surprising to the tongue and palate. They are served room temperature and dressed in a mixture of dried chilies and those renowned Sichuan peppercorns which do that “ma la” thing, numbing the mouth on contact then burning it.
11. Rabbit heads, Chengdu, Sichuan China
The spit-roasted rabbit itself was indeed delicious, skin crisp, meat succulent, redolent of the smoke imparted by the wood-fed grill on which it had whirled. The heads, however, are the most sought after, so I valiantly gnawed on one, trying not to think too much of the cute little bunny whose soul it had once housed. But when I was cajoled into downing a brain by our resident chef - “It’s the best part, Nick!” – I almost became a vegan on the spot. It was not delicious. It was rancid tasting, mealy textured - nasty. An experience both funny and macabre.
12. Mackerel heads at Soie, Bangkok
The variety of Thai foods is mind-boggling. I could keep exploring Bangkok forever – a recent two-week stay was nothing more than a scratch on the surface. Soie is an open-roofed eating place housed in a regional train station north of city center. Locomotives whizz by not five meters from where in-the-know diners devour seafood plates, deep and wok fried, soupy curries, many fiery piquant. Most order a plate of mackerel heads, which are deep fried, to a papery crisp nothingness. They are little tangled faces which are consumed whole – it’s like eating a fish-flavored potato chip if such a thing is imaginable. There’s something intangibly poetic about them.
See: POSTS, above for 2008-2012
☻Best new openings, 2015
☻Thanksgiving in Mexico City
☻Fine Dining @ Fonda FIna
☻El Puntal Brings the old world home
☻Agua y Sal & Porchetta Pork House
☻La Tonina, Tacos Norteños
☻On the grill: Fish Tacos at El Patán
☻On the Grill: Tacos al Carbón
☻Mushroom Season in Mexico
☻La Casa de los Tacos
☻Aida: A Work in Progress
☻Book review: Yucatán
☻Porco Rosso raises
the bar on BBQ
☻ Thrill of the Chase/El Parrillon
☻A de Acento & Áperi, San Miguel
☻The Best of Talk of the Town Part II
☻The Best of Talk of the Town Part 1
☻10 Top Tortas in Mexico City
☻Treasures of the Centro part 1
☻2014: The 10 Best
☻Bug Eyed: Eating Insects in the city
☻Livorno & La Locanda
☻The Tamal Queens
☻Sesame - where pan Asian pans out
☻ Mercado Roma: where to eat
☻Mercado Roma - shopping
☻Morelia en Boca 2014
☻Best Cocktails part I
☻Best Cocktails part II
☻Chowzter's London awards
☻ Lusitano - Portuguese
☻Dominique is now a bistro
☻ Estiatorio Mythos
☻ Taco Hopping: el Centro
☻The Best of 2013
☻De Mar a Mar
☻Yuban great Oaxacan Cooking
☻ Acapulco puts on a party
☻Rokai brings a little bit of Tokyo...
☻Angelopolitano: poblano Condesa
☻Mushroom season in Mexico
☻Touring the world's best barbacoa
☻World view: Anatol takes the cake
☻Dim Sum at Jing Teng
☻ Food trucks in Mexico City, ...
☻Celebrating July 4th in Mexico
☻Lincoln stays mid-century
☻ “Best taco in Mexico"
☻Close to home: Maximo Bistrot
☻On the Town: Tapeando
☻Q&A With Máximo's Chef
☻The Best Thing I Ate This Week:
☻Tacos de Pescado
☻And the Angels Sing: Turtux
☻The Women of Mexican Cuisine
☻The Feria de Tamales -Coyoacán